As a kid, I was always horrible at basketball. Admittedly, I never took to any competitive sport, but basketball was truly my Achilles Heel. Even worse than that, I happened to enjoy it. Today, I can count on my hands the number of times I have sunk a shot from the three-point line, and I can remember distinctly the rush I felt in doing so.

When I play Pyre, I can’t help but feel like a few people at Supergiant Games have had similar experiences. Pyre is, in the most literal sense, a fantasy sports game, and it effortlessly embodies the thrills and satisfaction that come with competitive play. Then, for good measure, it bolsters its gameplay with an ensemble cast of beautifully rendered misfits and sycophants. Pyre is a gorgeous and conscientious game that’s packed with as much charm as it is dialogue – and that’s a whole lot.

Players traverse the game world in their trusty wagon, which can do pretty much anything – even cross oceans. COURTESY OF SUPERGIANT GAMES

A Beautiful World

Pyre opens in bleak fashion, dropping players into the wastes of the Downside, a vast and unforgiving landscape where exiles from the Commonwealth — the real world, above the Downside — eek out a meager existence. You play a faceless protagonist who has been thrown into exile simply for being literate, a skill banned throughout the Commonwealth. Where it may have been a danger in the real world, however, literacy in the Downside proves to be a valuable asset: Soon after your arrival, you are picked up by a roving trio of fellow exiles who happen to possess a mysterious tome, which none of them can read. In it are the many secrets of the Rites, ancient bouts of combat that hold a momentous prize: Freedom from the Downside and a glorious return to the Commonwealth.

This is the launching point of Pyre and about as far as any quick synopsis can take us. What follows is a densely-written adventure ripe with wacky characters, tender moments and celestial intrigue. Though Bastion and Transistor never slumped in the narrative realm, Supergiant’s latest offering may be the developer’s most ambitiously written work yet. Each and every piece of the story is fleshed out with equal parts care and precision. Players will experience the trivial: Rukey, a cunning hound with a boisterous disposition, may ask players if he should keep his curly, Parisian mustache. However, players will also experience moments of great sentimentality, heartbreak, and loneliness. Serious questions abound in the harsh world of the Downside, and it’s up to you to choose how you approach those questions.

It’s difficult to emphasize how well Pyre manages its cast of characters. The game’s knack for storytelling is so strong, it could happily have existed as a visual novel and no one would have been the wiser. Character interactions are plentiful, organic and often hilarious, chock full of charm and personality, two things gaming can always use more of. Lore is plentiful and engaging, and it all takes place in one of the most beautifully rendered worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing from a top-down perspective.

Jodariel may look scary, but that’s only because she is. COURTESY OF SUPERGIANT GAMES

The Downside is a harrowing, beautiful world, pocked with bright pink mountains and littered with the corpses of fallen gods. Its denizens are captured in brilliant illustration, much of which I expect to be hailed as perfect fantasy art down the line.

But is it fun?

With all this going for it, it would feel almost hedonistic for Pyre to actually be a fun game. And yet, Pyre is fun. Contagiously fun. So much so, I felt tempted to skip dialogue, just to get to the next challenge. So, in a way, it’s almost fun to a fault.

Each Rite — 3-on-3 battles for freedom that have been ordained by the gods  — is a bombastic mix of basketball and spell casting that encourages creativity, style and, eventually, mastery. Ultimately, it’s simplicity that earns Pyre so many points in the ‘fun book.’ Much like Rocket League, Pyre’s gameplay is based in the most primordial of objectives: Score a goal. To be victorious, players must get the Celestial Orb (the ball) into the opposing team’s pyre. Each time they do this, the team’s pyre loses HP and gets closer to being extinguished. The first team — called a triumvirate — to extinguish the opposing side’s pyre, wins. It’s a simple premise, sure, but it’s also foolproof and familiar, making for a gameplay experience that is immediately accessible and pretty much guaranteed to be fun.

From there, the rest of the fun develops organically, as only the best fun can. Players can bash, blast and launch their way to victory, making good use of every character’s own distinct powers. Some characters, like the bumbling Sir Gilman, can unleash a devastating slash attack that works well to clear the field. Others, like the hulking Jodariel, can bash her way through adversaries.

Adding to the depth, RPG-lite elements allow players to tweak their play style, while talismans, found throughout the game, can lend characters buffs and bonuses. There are 10 players to choose from and it all comes together impressively, delivering a sports-fantasy experience that feels as fresh as anything released in recent memory.

The Never-Ending Story

With a game so driven by narrative, it begs the question: What happens if I lose a Rite? Starting over is always a drag when you’re playing a game with a strong story, and it would seem Supergiant realized this: No matter how often you fail, you will never see a ‘game over’ screen in Pyre. Lose a Rite, and life goes on. You may not send home one of your teammates this time around, but that opportunity will pose itself again, in due time.

This is not only a clever way to make the game longer, but it also allows a very real degree of bonding between players and their traveling band of misfits. Not only do you remember your losses, but the rest of the gang may as well, and it works wonders in making the world feel authentic and alive.

One Fading Flame

Until now, I have only sung praises for Pyre, and I could continue. For all of its strengths, however, Pyre is missing a feature that many will yearn for: online play. While the game supports local multiplayer, Supergiant has been vocal about the title’s lack of online multiplayer, writing in its FAQ, “We strongly believe that a high-quality online multiplayer experience needs to be a central focus of a game’s development in order to meet today’s standards.”

While this awareness and honesty are respectable, it does little to remedy the fact that, in a title with such a strong competitive foundation, not being able to challenge your friends online is unfortunate. If this feature could be added post-release, it would no doubt be too a great success.

Prepare for battle. COURTESY OF SUPERGIANT GAMES.

The Downside Has Its Upsides

Pyre is a special something. Actually, I’d dare to say that it’s a few special somethings. It’s this year’s best-written adventure so far; It’s the most beautiful game world I have seen in a long time; It’s a crazy fun twist on what we know about sports games. Pyre, for this writer, is a testament to why high-quality storytelling is so important in video games, and why truly fun gameplay is always in the gamer’s best interest. I don’t totally understand how Supergiant managed to make something like Pyre. It’s really kind of a strange game when you think about all of its parts. Nonetheless, I am happy they did, because we’d be way worse off without it.

Pyre Review
The Good
  • Beautiful world
  • Fantastic writing
  • Great gameplay
The Bad
  • No online multiplayer
9Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0.0

About The Author

Steven Pirani
Review/Editorial Writer

First things first: Steve has been a "Super Metroid" devotee since he was four-years-old, and that remains today. A writer and journalist from Long Island, New York, he spends most of his time trying to get decent at "Rainbow Six: Siege" and nailing aerial shots in "Rocket League." He put 600 hours into "Animal Crossing: Wild World" and he's not afraid to brag about it.